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"Notes on Applied Camouflage" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A WWII U.S. intelligence report on camouflage methods used by the Japanese on Attu and the Germans in North Africa, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 40, December 16, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


a. Report From Attu

In camouflage, as in all other matters, there is a wide difference between theory and practice. To the question, "What camouflage technique proved most effective as used by you?" four Attu casualties, all enlisted men, replied, "We were too busy fighting to have any time to worry about camouflage." However, further inquiry disclosed that moss was put on the helmet-nets and mud on their faces. A white sheet was effective on a snow background -- when not used to clean rifles -- and a reversible parka, brown on one side, white on the other, was effective among rocks with patches of bare snow among them -- a hospital tent camouflaged with the combination of chicken feathers on wire netting was practically invisible a few feet away.

Soldiers reported that the use of tracer bullets served only to give away a position. The Japanese did not use them. The Japanese, particularly when they held the higher ground, hid their trenches and fox-holes by covering the mound of excavated dirt very carefully with tundra. From a lower elevation, it was practically impossible to see such a foxhole. They too, used the white-sheet camouflage in the snow. Grass was used to camouflage buildings.

b. German Practice in Africa

(1) General

In Tunisia, the Germans sited positions for concealment even when it meant overcoming considerable natural difficulties. While they used no special camouflage tactics with which we are not familiar, nor possessed any equipment superior to our own, their camouflage discipline was excellent. Tracks and litter were kept well under control. The use of alternative positions for mobile equipment was general. The nets used to cover their vehicles were lightly garnished, and employed for the most part to support brush or other local material threaded in.

(2) Artillery

Artillery camouflage was unusually good, with brush-wood hedges as the principal material. Guns so protected were hard to spot, as the German powder, while it produces a flash, is quite smokeless. In settled communities, guns would be placed in gardens or private houses; carefully covered with shrubbery, they defied anything but almost point-blank observation from both air and ground. At Bizerte, bamboos, iron-shod at both ends were found upon which netting was stretched and used to cover emplacements. These frames were of different sizes and worked on simple hinges around the emplacements so that they could be quickly pushed off the guns or swung back into position. Local foliage supplied the garnishment. No camouflage was wasted on targets located on conspicious landmarks such as those in Bizerte harbor.

c. German Airfield Camouflage

(1) Runways

There is no stereotyped layout for German advanced landing fields. Of those inspected, as little as possible had been done in order not to disturb the ground surface. In only one had attempt been made to level the site and here, light scraping and harrowing had been done through the various crops. No runways had been cut or tracks laid -- the crops had not been destroyed -- only their growth was retarded. An air reconnaissance proved that the runway so prepared was very difficult to spot.

(2) Dispersals and Blast Pens

Dispersal was over a large area and blast pens were almost always used. Two or three were usually placed adjacent to the landing strip within easy access. Located in banks or on a hillside, or among olive groves according to the country, the rest were dispersed over a wide area. On one airfield, the dispersal was carefully concealed around a large grove with the airplanes pushed in between the trees around the edge. Air reconnaissance showed that well located blast pens were not easy to distinguish.

d. Decoys

The use of dummies and decoys is as old as warfare. In Tunisia, there is evidence that German dummy positions successfully drew our fire. In Attu the hoary trick of holding up a helmet to draw fire produced no results and the only successful decoys were our junior officers who exposed themselves to draw fire. The Japanese did the same, to focus attention on one position or foxhole while others were moving to some other location.


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